I can’t believe Jonathan Gold is gone. I don’t want to believe it. Part of me refuses to, despite the knowing futility of such sentiment.
I know it’s a cliche to say things like “I just saw him” after someone you’ve been in recent contact with has passed, but I don’t care. I just saw him two months ago, at Barnsdall Art Park in Los Angeles. He looked healthy. He was gracious, engaging, and kind – everything I’d hoped it would be if I ever met the man. Now he’s gone, because cancer is a massive, monstrous shit.
I’m tired of cancer robbing the life from colleagues and influences important to me. It’s happened five times in the last four years. Three of those people were taken away before they turned 60. Each one that dies reminds me of those that have gone before under similar circumstances. I’ve had ghosts floating in my head since Saturday night’s announcement. It’s nearly too much to reconcile. The memory of Gold’s work and that chance meeting at Barnsdall is stored in my head now. I hope it’s a long, long time before another loss to cancer leads it to roam through sorrowful gray matter with the others.
And Gold was important to me. His death messed me up in a way that Anthony Bourdain’s death did not. Part of that was because he was the home team – he was the king of L.A.’s incomprehensibly sprawling food scene and, by extension, the city’s greatest cultural ambassador. But his craftsmanship as a writer endeared in a way that even his Pulitzer Prize can’t fully suggest. His words sought to gain understanding that went beyond the dish. They educated, enlightened, and didn’t insult the reader’s intelligence. They were conversational and felt familiar, as if he was sitting next to you, casually talking, and wanting to hear your opinion. His command of the English language was a thrill to dissect. His knack of sneaking in esoteric references that were erudite without feeling superior was a straight-up magic trick. His skills made you wonder what it would look like if he ever went off on a snark-filled tirade at a restaurant he disliked. To his massive credit, this will forever remain a mystery. He could be critical of course, but he never used his gift for cruelty. He was kind and respectful to the city he loved and the people trying to make a living in an relentlessly difficult industry. This may have been his greatest attribute, considering some of his far lesser peers seem to revel in needless evisceration. Anyone truly serious about food writing should draw inspiration from Gold’s remarkable writing template. If you do, just know your writing will suck by comparison.
Gold’s death leaves a hole the size of the Arroyo Seco in the Southern California food writing scene, and this trench has left me feeling empty inside for days. It’s not that the scene will be bereft of big-league restaurant news and opinion. Several people can tell me all about Verspertine’s molecular gastronomy or the brilliance of Ludo Lefebvre. But nobody’s left to tell me why eating mole in Bell is worth my time, or why Sichuan food in an Alhambra mini-mall is life-changing, or why standing on Olympic Boulevard in Boyle Heights at night waiting for an Arabic taco is an essential activity. All I have at present is a combination of guessing and hoping that a strip-mall joint touting Oaxacan or Filipino cuisine is good. Even if someone does emerge from inked pages to trumpet the best of these little guys, it’s not going to be Gold behind the instrument. It never will be. This hurts and devastates. It will for a long, long time.
R.I.P., Mr. Gold. I’m glad to have met you, although I’d sacrifice that encounter in a snap if it brought you back.